Here is an analysis of ‘Acquainted with the Night’, a poem by Robert Frost. One of the most popular American poets, Frost wrote over one hundred poems in his lifetime. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry four times, and he also won the Congressional Gold Medal for his writing in 1960. Frost eventually settled in the New England area, which inspired his poetry very much, and the majority of his work reflected the rural atmosphere in which he lived. Frost read his poem ‘The Gift Outright’ at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1960. His most famous poems include ‘The Road Less Traveled‘ and ‘Mending Wall’, although many are familiar with ‘Acquainted with the Night’. Frost died in 1963 at the age of 88. He is buried in Bennington, Vermont.
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Summary of Acquainted with the Night
A brief poem, ‘Acquainted with the Night’ is told from the speaker’s point of view. This speaker could easily be Frost, especially since the poet dealt with depression in his adult life. In this poem, the speaker tells his readers that he knows the night well. It is during the night that he has taken many long walks, even when it has been raining. He has walked past other people, never meeting their gaze because he does not want to have to explain why he is out walking alone in the middle of the night. The speaker repeats the first line of the poem as he ends his thoughts, “I have been one acquainted with the night.”
Analysis of Acquainted with the Night
This poem is comprised of five stanzas; the first four stanzas are each three lines, but the fifth and final stanza only contains two. ‘Acquainted with the Night’ has a set rhyme scheme, which follows the pattern aba cdc efe ghg aa. The lilting nature of the rhyme scheme helps to shape the tone of the poem, which is quite melancholy.
The Title – ‘Acquainted with the Night’
At first glance, the diction Frost uses in his title is curious. The word acquainted indicates that the speaker is familiar with the night, but it does not mean that the speaker knows the night well, nor does it indicate that he particularly likes the night.
I have been one acquainted with the night.(…)I have outwalked the furthest city light.
In the first line of ‘Acquainted with the Night’, which can be read in full here, Frost writes, “I have been one acquainted with the night.” First, the verb phrase ‘have been‘ must be dissected. It can be argued that if one has been acquainted with someone, one is no longer acquainted. On the other hand, it can also be argued that Frost is merely making a declaration to begin his poem: he is one who knows the night. The word night also conjures several different connotations: it can be the physical night, or Frost can be talking about something else here, something darker, such as depression.
Frost follows with two more declarative sentences to end the first stanza. Just like with the word night, the rain can also serve as a metaphor for something dark. Perhaps the rain the speaker has walked out in is a depression or a difficult time in his life. This line could also be read literally. If one is acquainted with walking alone at night, one most certainly has walked through rainstorms while doing so. The speaker confesses that he has walked so long and so far that he has walked past where the street lights end. This stanza suggests several possibilities. First, one must consider why someone would choose to walk in the middle of the night. For many, the exercise of walking provides clarity. It gives the walker time to think things through and process certain events of one’s life. Secondly, the stanza suggests that even though the speaker is surrounded by darkness, he does not seem to be afraid. He keeps walking even when he knows the street lights will end.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.(…)And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
The second stanza parallels the first in both structure and tone. The poem has an almost confessional tone to it. The speaker seems to be admitting all of these statements to his reader. He tells the reader that he has looked down many roads that seem to be sad—perhaps because it is dark, or perhaps for other reasons, such as poverty. The speaker also informs the reader that he has passed by a watchman who is patrolling the area in which the speaker is walking. Instead of stopping to talk to the watchman, the speaker drops his eyes to the ground in order to avoid conversation. As he says, he is “unwilling to explain” why he is out walking for seemingly no reason at all. Perhaps he is embarrassed to be walking about so late at night.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet(…)Came over houses from another street,
In the third stanza, Frost uses alliteration with the multiple ‘s’ words in the first line of the third stanza in order to jolt the reader to attention, just as the speaker has been brought out of his own thoughts to hear the cry from several streets away. The speaker tells the reader that he stopped to listen, but he does so in a peculiar way. Frost writes, “…stopped the sound of feet.” He does not use a personal pronoun in this line, which makes the speaker seem removed and apart from himself.
But not to call me back or say good-bye;(…)One luminary clock against the sky
The fourth stanza of ‘Acquainted with the Night’ continues the thought that was not completed at the end of stanza three. Frost writes, “But not to call me back or say good-bye;/And further still at an unearthly height/One luminary clock against the sky.” Here, the loneliness of the speaker is brought to light. He admits to the reader that the cry from several streets away is not for him. No one says goodnight to him, nor are they asking him to come back again; the cry is to someone else. Lines eleven and twelve are also continued into the final stanza. In these lines, the speaker describes the moon as a “luminary clock.” Many call the moon the Earth’s oldest timepiece, for based on its position in the sky, one can estimate what time it is.
Frost concludes his poem with the final two lines that read, “Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right./I have been one acquainted with the night.” Frost personifies the moon in these final two lines; the moon is not saying either way whether or not it is the wrong time for the speaker to be walking about. The moon is completely indifferent to what the speaker is doing, which furthers the theme of loneliness that is prevalent throughout the course of ‘Acquainted with the Night’. The poet ends his poem by using repetition: the last line is a replica of the poem’s first line.
The Frost family was no stranger to mental illness, and unfortunately, Frost also suffered from bouts of depression. Robert Frost’s life was plagued with a series of unfortunate events, starting with the death of his father when he was just a young boy. Of his six children, only two lived longer than he. It is no wonder, then that Frost struggled with depression, and this poem can be seen as his testimony to struggling through life’s hardest and darkest times.